Libya on the Brink of Chaos
By Ben Winkley
It is easy to overlook events in Libya as other flash points in the Middle East hog the headlines. Egypt is on fire; Syria is collapsing into horror; and Salafi extremist groups are lobbing missiles into Israel.
Oil tanker Maersk Rhode Island waits to refill in the waters outside of the Zawiya Oil Refinery some 40 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya, on Thursday. European Pressphoto Agency
A closer look at Libya, though, reveals a country descending into lawlessness.
In the country that is Europe’s largest supplier of oil, extrajudicial assassinations abound, foreign embassies are bombed and senior government figures quit in frustration.
The 2011 revolution stirred Old Libya from its slumbers. Before Moammar Gadhafi and before King Idris the three provinces that now form Libya (an Italian construct, the name was adopted only in 1934) were mainly linked by the movement of Bedouin.
More autonomy is now being sought, particularly by Cyrenaica, the most easterly province and the home to most of the country’s oil industry.
Gadhafi held Libya together by force of will and willing use of force. In his absence it is falling apart.
Foreign Policy says conditions for ordinary Libyans haven’t improved since the revolution—crumbling schools, filthy hospitals, endemic corruption and pollution of the coastline breed public discontent toward the government.
And Libya’s oil industry, once a tightly run stalwart of supply to Europe, is in danger of joining the ranks of those in countries where industries are marred by unrest, theft or corruption, as The Wall Street Journal’s Benoit Faucon explains.
Strikes by security guards in eastern and central Libyan ports that started at the end of July have effectively shut down oil shipments. Storage facilities have filled with crude, crimping any new production. Libya’s output fell in the first half of August to about one-third the highs reached last summer.
Foreign companies operating in Libya are feeling the burn. OMV, Eni and BG Group are among those with exposure to Libya.
Though the port closures were started by workers demanding the payment of wages owed as well as higher wages or more jobs, Libyan officials say the situation there is now turning into an occupation and that the armed guards are trying to sell oil without government approval.
A major international commodities trading house apparently recently received an offer to purchase oil outside official channels.
The Libyan government is infuriated, threatening to “bomb from the air and sea” any tanker illicitly taking oil out of the country.
This remarkable video, posted by the Libyan Navy Special Forces, shows how serious that threat is. Unverified it may be, but it appears to show shots being fired at an unauthorized tanker outside Es Sider, the country’s largest oil terminal.
An RPG is aimed, before some thought is given to the possible outcome of such action.
Libya has said it would resume exports from one of the affected ports, and that the situation has improved. Improved may not be enough.
The amorphous nature of the Arab Spring continues, and the ramifications are still unclear.